12 warning signs you’re in a relationship with a passive-aggressive person

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Being with someone passive-aggressive is like riding an emotional rollercoaster.

One minute you’re sure everything between you is fine, the next you doubt whether your partner is happy with how things are going.

Even worse, your significant other never openly addresses issues, so you struggle to interpret their mixed signals.

Needless to say, it takes a toll on your emotional well-being.

But is your boo truly concealing how they feel, or are you blowing things out of proportion?

Here are 12 warning signs you’re in a relationship with a passive-aggressive person.

Pay attention, and you’ll begin to notice patterns that are hard to ignore.  

1) They insist nothing is wrong

“I’m fine.”

Does that sound familiar?

If your partner insists that nothing is wrong when they’re clearly upset about something, there’s a good chance they’re passive-aggressive.

Sure, sometimes people aren’t in the mood to address an issue right then and there, preferring to do it once they have a chance to gather their thoughts.

But if this type of behavior is the norm rather than the exception, it’s safe to consider it a red flag.

2) They manifest anger indirectly

Your significant other may say that everything is okay, but you notice them expressing their anger indirectly:

  • They slam doors
  • They use exercise for emotional release
  • They indulge in destructive habits (like binge drinking or overeating)
  • They listen to angry music at maximum volume

I was a passive-aggressive teen girl, so trust me: these coping mechanisms only escalate with time.

3) They are inconsistent

Inconsistency is a passive-aggressive person’s middle name.

They say one thing and do another.

For instance, they may agree to plans but cancel at the last minute without giving a good reason.

Or, they may act like they support your goals, only to subtly undermine your efforts to reach them because they’re secretly unhappy with your actions.

If this leaves you confused about their true feelings, you have every right to be.

4) They give hints that they’re upset

Passive-aggressive people won’t directly confront their issues, but they’ll give hints that something is wrong.

It’s up to you to decipher them, which isn’t a breeze.

They might post cryptic social media updates that convey anger without explicitly stating the issue.

Outside the virtual world, they are confident they’re proficient at suggesting what you did wrong when you frequently have no idea.   

They might talk about how someone else similarly wronged them but fail to connect the two events.

One of the most ridiculous things I do when I’m upset with a significant other but don’t want to confront them is bring up a scene from a TV show that relates to our situation.

I describe it in detail and explain how the character I identify with felt at that moment, only to have my boyfriend stare blankly back at me.

He thinks I’m just making conversation.  

I can’t blame him for that.

5) They sulk

If your partner sulks or sighs but doesn’t address their dissatisfaction in any meaningful way, I hate to break it to you: you’re dating a passive-aggressive person.

Sulking indicates unhappiness.

But when you call them out on it, your boo either evades your questions or insists you’re imagining things.

They continue to wallow in their misery, even if a simple conversation may be enough to clear things up.

Meanwhile, your mood sours too.

Now you’re both grumpy, and neither wants to talk things out.

6) They’re sarcastic

Passive-aggressive people use sarcastic remarks to convey their displeasure in a veiled manner.

Here are some concrete examples, so you can have a better idea of what I mean:

  • Sure, I’ll drop everything to see you. It’s not like I have anything else going on.
  • Thanks for the compliment. I guess you decided to remember I’m around today.
  • You go ahead and pick the movie. It’s not like my opinion matters anyway.
  • I’m happy to make plans, though there’s a good chance they’ll fall apart, as always.

To say that sarcasm is hurtful is an understatement.

Unfortunately, the following behavior on the list is even worse.

7) They withhold affection

Withholding affection is one of the most upsetting things a passive-aggressive partner can do.

That’s mainly because they do it without explaining why, so you’re left wondering what’s going on and having no clue how to fix it.

They might ignore your calls or texts, make excuses not to see you, fail to provide support if you’re going through a difficult time, or refuse to engage in physical affection.

At the same time, they appear cold and distant, making you feel like they’re 1,000 miles away even when sitting right next to you on the couch.

Their attitude leads to a sense of disconnection in the relationship.

If it persists, you might soon reach the point of no return.

8) They change the way they communicate

A more subtle sign that your partner is passive-aggressive is that they switch up how they communicate.

Let’s say they usually text you throughout the day and use copious amounts of emojis.

If their texts suddenly become lackluster and emoji-free, it signals that something deeper is going on.  

Similarly, if you routinely talk about your day over dinner and they become taciturn or for no apparent reason, it’s cause for concern.

9) They keep score

Passive-aggressive people have a tendency to keep score in relationships.

They mentally tally up perceived slights, offenses, or times when they’ve felt wronged by you.

They hold on to these grudges and use them to justify their behavior or as ammunition in future conflicts.

Instead of addressing the problem at hand, they recount all the past times when you’ve made a mistake.

Or, they repeatedly reference a past incident in unrelated discussions, showing that they have a hard time letting go.

A passive-aggressive partner can also use generalized statements like “You always” or “You never,” which fuels conflict in an unproductive manner.

With them, communication is never easy.

10) They complain about feeling underappreciated

As they don’t manage to express their anger in a healthy way, passive-aggressive people often build resentment and feel underappreciated by those around them.

If you’re dating a passive-aggressive person, there’s a good chance their behavior extends to other areas of their life.

They might complain about how no one at work truly values them, how their friends never have time for them, or how their family takes them for granted.

Instead of confronting those that treat them poorly, they play the victim.

When this happens, they’re probably also complaining about you to someone else.

11) They “forget” to do things

A passive-aggressive partner might not talk about what’s bothering them.

Still, they’ll punish you by conveniently “forgetting” to do things or procrastinating tasks to cause you unnecessary stress.

If you ask them to pick up groceries, they’ll fail to buy your preferred brands or omit to purchase certain items.

If you have to attend a fancy event, they don’t start to get ready until the very last minute, even if you tell them how important it is to you that they look presentable.

You’ve told them your parents are in town and want them to meet for dinner. On the day in question, your partner claims that the plans slipped their mind.  

You get the idea.

12) They make you feel like you’re walking on eggshells

The most glaring sign that you’re in a relationship with a passive-aggressive person is that you’re on high alert around them.

Instead of being 100% yourself, you worry about setting them off or affecting their mood.

Since they don’t communicate directly, it’s hard to recognize their triggers.

As a result, you’re careful when choosing your words and actions to avoid negative reactions or potential conflicts.

That’s no way to live.

Final thoughts

You got to the end of the list, and you’re pretty sure that your partner is passive-aggressive.

Now what?

It all boils down to open communication.

If you care about your significant other, arm yourself with patience and encourage them to express their feelings clearly.

Tell them that their behavior hurts you and calmy set boundaries, explaining that you won’t tolerate their jabs and sulks.

It also helps to remind them that conflict is natural and that you can navigate it together.

Most importantly, offer support as they try to get to the root of the problem.

They might be passive-aggressive because they fear confrontation, have trouble dealing with emotions, or are still processing past negative emotions.

Whatever it is, facing their shortcomings head-on will help them grow and learn how to express frustration productively.

A mental health professional can definitely help with that.

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